COUNCIL BLUFFS — Kady Bidrowsky is no stranger to speed.
The 11-year-old tucks her pigtails into her helmet, straps in and burns rubber. She speeds past grown men, some of whom race in real cars on professional tracks.
Bidrowsky sits atop the points standings at Joe's Karting, which boasts the fastest recreational go-karts in the Omaha area. This spring, she began her racing career with 60 mph karts in Newton, Iowa.
Racers come to Joe's from sprint cars and pit crews, from office buildings and even elementary schools with one thing in mind: speed. Joe's has 9-horsepower go-karts that max out at 45 mph.
“It has that competitive nature,” part-owner Rich Streif said. “It's something that everybody can enjoy.”
The indoor go-kart track is just north of the Mid-America Center. Drivers have to fill out a release form and strap on a helmet before they can ride.
Now in its fourth year, Joe's is bringing in record numbers of racers. It's easy to see why, said employee Corey Wilson: “Speed. Adrenaline.”
At first glance, Joe's doesn't look like much. The former Joe's Carpet warehouse is bare on the outside except for a small sign with bullet points about Joe's and a neon sign with clashing fonts and colors.
But once you step inside, the racing atmosphere takes hold.
NASCAR memorabilia and local racing souvenirs are draped on walls and rafters. The track takes up all but one strip of concrete inside the warehouse, divided by a chain link fence.
The 750-foot race track is lined with used NASCAR tires and black plastic bumpers, giving it a NASCAR road course feel at0 the length.
On busy nights, Joe's packs its racing fields, pitting experienced drivers against newbies. When it's less crowded, racers normally get to race alone with their buddies.
A 16-lap “Hot Laps Session,” a standard six-minute race, costs $13.50. It's free to watch a race from the chain-link fence.
While the price of a ride is steep as far as go-karts go, the racers at Joe's say they're happy to pay for the added experience.
One of the most popular tools for racers at Joe's is the Racing Performance Measurement (RPM).
Streif, who co-owns the track with racers Buddy Ray Jones and Ryan Butler, said the Racing Performance Measure is a computer-calculated score rewarding best laps and the number of racers passed in a race. Top RPMs for the track are normally in the high 2,000s, up from a base score of 1,200.
Smart racers will start in the back and earn their way to the front.
Evan Hravik and his friends, who have been racing at Joe's since it opened, fasten small video cameras to their helmets to record their races.
“We just do it to see how we're doing,” Hravik said. “You'll be able to see how you take your corners.”
Larry Bidrowsky, Kady's father, said he has spent thousands of dollars at Joe's since Kady started racing in July, building her RPM to well over 4,000 as Kady worked to improve her racing skills.
While all the boys skid around the corners or slam into the walls, she feathers the pedal, cuts near-perfect corners, and seems to explode into the straightaway.
“Either you've got it or you don't, and she's got it,” her father said.
Kady had to take a driver safety course her first time behind the wheel — Joe's requires this of all drivers without a license or permit.
After a few months of training with Wilson, Kady posted a best lap time in the 14-second range.
“If someone gets under 15 seconds (on a best lap), they're good,” Streif said.
R.J. Neumeister is not one of those racers.
Visiting from Wisconsin, Neumeister, 56, and his 15-year old son, Ryan, came to try out Joe's after the karts at an Omaha arcade weren't fast enough. The father and son strapped on helmets along with R.J.'s friend, Omahan Chuck Berg, as all three set out for their first run on high-speed go-karts.
“I'm old enough to know better but dumb enough to do it,” Neumeister said.
For the first few laps, they were hesitant to open up the throttle.
“Twenty-five mph feels like a near-death experience when you're a few inches off the ground,” Neumeister said.
Protected by only a lap belt and a helmet, it can take a few laps for a newbie to feel comfortable enough to try for top speed.
A gradual arc on the back stretch offers the best chance to reach top speed once you build up your confidence.
With your foot firmly on the gas, knuckles white on the steering wheel, you feel the cold air swirling around your helmet as the kart passes 40 mph. Just as it starts feeling easy, you reach the first turn.
Quick, hit the brakes, feather the gas, rip the wheel.
Most likely, you skid, stop or spin. Nobody hits it perfect on their first try.
In later laps, Berg and the Neumeisters got more confident and upped their speed, starting to feel the full power of the karts.
“It's a huge difference (from traditional go-karts),” the older Neumeister said. “It's a blur. It's so quick.”
After five minutes on the track, they pulled back into the loading area. Analytics, one piece of paper per racer, were waiting at a printer by the front desk.
R.J. Neumeister's average lap edged his buddy Berg by a little more than half a second, but Berg wound up in second place after starting at the back of the pack, passing both Neumeisters and earning an RPM boost in the process.
Every racer lapped Ryan, the only one of the bunch without a driver's license. Even with a last-place finish, Ryan walked off the track with a smile.
Although they're far from competing with Kady, the father and son wouldn't hesitate to strap back in and give it a shot a second time.
“You have to live it,” R.J. Neumeister said. “It's an unbelievable experience.”
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